Once, while visiting North Carolina, I waited in a store as the check-out girl made leisurely, meaningful conversation with every single customer on line ahead of me. I stood white-knuckled with impatience until I grasped, “This is a marvel that you may never see again.”
That’s also the spirit in which to sink into a book by William Least Heat-Moon. Heat-Moon long ago dropped out of academics to write about America’s lesser-known byways. (His 1982 “Blue Highways” is a travel classic.)
Heat-Moon never speeds you from one significant site to another. Rather, he charms you into ambling with him to places you never thought previously of wanting to visit – with countless digressions en route.
Roads To Quoz, Heat-Moon’s latest book, is aptly named. (“Quoz,” he explains, is “anything strange, incongruous, or peculiar ... the mysterious.”) Most often accompanied by his wife Q (“she’s never felt much kinship” for her real name, Jo Ann) but occasionally by other pals, Heat-Moon takes a series of journeys.
He plans to do things like explore the Ouachita Mountains of northern Arkansas, seek out the vanishing waterman’s taverns along Florida’s Gulf Coast, track the Quapaw Ghost Light across Kansas, and sail the Intracoastal Waterway.
En route, however, he investigates a long-forgotten murder, reminisces about his stepgrandfather who once pitched to Babe Ruth, and recounts the history of the Railcycle.
There’s also a bit of enticing regional dining along the way. A trip with Heat-Moon naturally requires fried catfish, hush puppies, oysters with pepper sauce, and pickle pie.
But that’s just a slice of it. For readers, “Roads to Quoz” is a chance to sit back, shift into low gear, and perhaps discover America anew.
“To live more otherly is to live more lastingly,” Heat-Moon writes. For those hungry for communion with things “other,” this is your book.
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor’s book editor.